Harvey Marion LaFollette
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Harvey Marion LaFollette



The career of Mr. LaFollette shows a man of pre-eminent usefulness, holding a prominent place among the men whose industry and ingenuity have illustrated the history of the west. Few have done more or obtruded themselves less than himself. His success, like all great successes, has been achieved against constant disappointments. Perseverance and indomitable energy have been characteristics of Mr. LaFollette’s life, which has been one of struggle, self-reliance, bold efforts, hard won though inadequately required succes [sic]. He was a son of Harvey and Susan C. LaFollette, born in the state of Wisconsin, near Madison, September 8, 1858; two years later removed to Indiana, and made their final home in Thorntown, Boone County, Indiana, where his father was accidentally killed by putting a new wheel in his flouring mill, in 1865, leaving a widow and six small children, Harvey being the fourth.

Young LaFollette received his early education in the Thorntown academy, entering school for the first time at the age of nine years, passing in five years through the primary grammar grades, finishing Ray’s higher algebra, and studying geometry and Latin. His summer vacations were spent in farm work and in the village stave factory. Every dollar earned was invested in books of histories and travels. Skating to an excess in severely cold weather brought on hemorrhage of the lungs, and at the age of fourteen he was taken out of school for nearly three years. During these three years he spent most of his time reading the Thorntown library, it being at that time one of the most complete libraries in the state. In 1874 he attended for a time at the Friends’ school, at Sugar Plain. In 1876 he entered the junior year of the classical course in Wabash College, at Crawfordsville, but had scarcely begun his term when he was threatened with a relapse of the disease. He then decided to seek a milder climate, where he might hope to secure the coveted education without the certain sacrifice of his health. He determined to go to France, and in the sunny land of his forefathers seek at once health and culture.

It was certainly a great undertaking for a boy of eighteen, with but little money and no acquaintances in Europe, to go alone among strangers, trusting to make his way by his own ability. He embarked from New York, February, 1877. He studied two years in Paris at the College of France, the Academy of Paris and the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees. At the last named he took the regular polytechnic course with the view of an outdoor life, at the same time keeping up his favorite studies in metaphysics and the languages, taking the full course under Laboulaye, Franck and Guillaume Guizot, at the College of France.

To assist in maintaining himself he taught at night in the international school of languages, under the direction of Mous. At the end of two years, having regained his health, he devoted his time exclusively to languages, metaphysics and teaching. Spent some of his time at the university of Gottingen, and passed six months in Rome attending lectures at the Collegio Romano and studying the Latin tongues. He traveled through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, France and England, sometimes for weeks on foot, sleeping in peasants’ houses and learning by actual contact the life and speech of the people.

In 1880 he returned to Indiana, having accomplished what he had planned, and in that and the following years he taught in the Union high schools at Westfield, Hamilton County. September, 1881, he took charge of the former institution in Tippecanoe County, was elected county superintendent in March; has been re-elected. His work as a teacher and superintendent has received great praise from those who are acquainted with it. The Indiana School Journal, August, 1886, says of Mr. LaFollette: “He is one of the leading superintendents in the state. He is perhaps the most scholarly man in the field. He speaks five different languages and studied several others. He spent some years abroad studying, and owns one of the best private libraries in the state. He is a hard worker and usually accomplishes what he undertakes.”

At the solicitation of many educational men who knew his eminent qualifications for the position Mr. LaFollete [sic] was a candidate for the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, was nominated September 2, 1886, and after a heated contest was elected on the 2d day of November following, receiving a handsome majority over his opponent and led his ticket by above two thousand.

His studies and observations in Europe, his knowledge of literature and varied work in the different grades of public schools gives him a breadth of knowledge and personal experience that especially fits him for the duties of the state superintendency. He succeeded the Hon. John W. Holcombe, March 15, 1887, Mr. Holcombe and Mr. LaFollette being the youngest men ever elected to the state superintendency by the people of Indiana. His friends feel confident that he educational interests of Indiana will be ably administered by him. That the efficiency of the office reached under his immediate predecessor will be maintained, and that the public schools of this great state will continue to be the pride of the people during his administration, no one who knows him can doubt.

Source Citation: Boone County Biographies [database online] Boone County INGenWeb. 2007. <https://sites.rootsweb.com/~inboone> Original data: Harden & Spahr. "Early Life and Times in Boone County, Indiana." Lebanon, Indiana. May, 1887, pp. 322-325.

Transcribed by: Julie S. Townsend - June 29, 2007